When readers become friends
When I became a writer, of course I hoped to have readers. But I never expected that my readers would become my friends. One new friend is Savithri, the first person to review our little book about India. Luckily, we were able to meet for a quick coffee when I was in India last month. We’d barely started talking about her life and some of her own writing when it was time for her to leave. So we’ve continued our conversation by email. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.
- Where did you grow up and where do you live now? Before I got married and shifted to Ankleshwar where I live presently, I lived in Mumbai where I did my schooling till junior high. I completed the rest of my schooling and my collegiate education in Chennai.
- What inspired you to write these posts? Something that I read, or experience or just a memory acts as a trigger. I won’t say I am a disciplined writer…I write when I feel the urge to.
- If you were stranded on a deserted island (with plenty of food, water, and of course, coffee), what three other things would you want to have with you? Books, company and a means of communication so that I /we all can make a quick getaway.
- If you could give your grandchild one experience from your own childhood, what would it be? My childhood has been a happy one. To choose one out of the myriad experiences is a tough decision…but if push comes to shove, I would regale my grandchildren with tales of the wonderful summers I spent with my cousins.
- When I met you, we shared a quick coffee but wished we could have spent longer together. If the two of us met again for coffee and had room for a few others, who would you like to invite? I would love to invite Sudha Murthy, philanthropist and my role model, Tarla Dalal, chef extraordinaire from whom there is so much I have to learn, Asterix and Tom & Jerry, whose antics keep me in splits and, of course, God for whom I have a questionnaire a mile long. Since HE may not have the time, I am willing to settle for Morgan Freeman and/or the desi Akshay Kumar of OMG fame.
[Note from Barb: if you get a chance, you should really try to see the hilarious and touching movie, Oh My God in which a shopkeeper decides to sue God when his insurance company won’t pay for his destroyed shop because the storm was an “act of God”. He’s befriended by a man who introduces himself as Krishna Vasudeva Yadav, played by Akshay Kumar as a motorcycle-riding, sunglass-wearing, flute-playing figure who turns out to be the actual Lord Krishna.]
In her post today, Savithri takes us back to the train experience from long ago, a wonderful memoir of a time and place that you might think long gone. But this is India, so I’ve met those food vendors, heard those babies, and annoyed fellow travelers with my own questions. I have a few photos from our own India train trips with travel buddies Janine and Jaya to prove it.
[Of course, that didn’t stop me from offering my Midwestern American guesses at translating her Hindi bits! Hopefully, someone who knows way better than me will take pity and let us know what it really means!]
Meanwhile, sit back with your coffee—or even better with a cup of great chai tea—and listen to those wheels rumbling beneath us.
The Romance of a Journey by Train in India.
Guest post by Savithri Sundaram
The experience starts long before you even board the train…when you book your tickets. Will we, won’t we…get the tickets of course! It is wait-listed oh hell, what do we do? Wait it out of course. RAC now…two days to go…confirm hoga bhai? Han Han ji. [Are you good with that bro? You betcha!] And then the Hamletian dilemma…to pack or not to pack.
As a seasoned traveller you know that despite all these uncertainties, you will commence your journey. Ah! The excitement only builds up. Will we catch the train? It seems that Providence has ganged up against you. Every, but every person on the road is determined that you do not catch the train, but many swears and many swerves later you march triumphantly onto the platform just as the announcement is made that your train is late.
You know that the half an hour is an understatement and you sit down and conserve your energy because you need to get into the train when it arrives. When the train does puff onto the platform, you puff, pummel, poke, shout, shove, and elbow your way into the compartment and locate your seat only to find, inevitably, that someone has occupied your seat and—whatever hour of the day or night it is—is snoring away to glory. A few gentle requests and a few not so gentle prods later you are the rightful occupant of your seat.
Now begins part two of the exercise. Yeh aapka bag hai? [Yo, dude, is this your bag?] You ask all and sundry and not getting any response you proceed to pull out, adjust and stuff your luggage and padlock it so no thief can saunter away with it. Then safely ensconced in your seat, you surround yourself with the paraphernalia required to make it comfortable…water bottle, paper, book, an assortment of snacks…all at hand, right. Just as you begin to read—
“Madam,where are you going?” You look up to find Mr./Mrs. Fellow Traveller (MFT) looking at you expectantly.
“Chennai,” you answer tersely. Is that a deterrent? Not by a long shot. A series of questions follow and you answer every one of them haplessly. Not only does MFT know your life history, you willy nilly know his too. Even as you are being plied with questions you are also being supplied with a steady stream of eatables—idli, thepla, poha, bhel, etc** depending on which part of India s/he is from. **[savory breakfast cake, fenugreek flatbread from Gujarat, flattened rice flakes, gorgeous puffed rice snack to die for. Or—if you’re from the Midwest—hot dish, something with potatoes, something with jello and/or mayo, hot dish.]
Having satiated his/her curiosity and your appetite, MTF decides to take a little rest.
Thank God for small mercies you say, and settle down to read your book. But your relief is short lived for the train restaurant attendant wants to know what you wish to order, the chaiwallah and the vada seller are offended that you don’t want to buy anything, and the angelic baby in the berth next to your’s wishes to make its presence felt in the most strident manner possible. By now, of course, your expectations of a relaxed, soothing, Me-Time-only journey have flown out of the window of the speeding train. When you cannot beat them, the best thing to do is join them. You put away your book and bring out a pack of cards, and by the time Chennai arrives we are all on Hail Fellow, well met terms.
You would that think I would like to exchange this for the antiseptic, artificial ambience of an aircraft. That’s where you are wrong, dear friend. The countdown to the return journey has already begun and this time I am ready—equipped with sufficient armoury from Grand Sweets.
NOTE FROM BARB:
I’d like to thank Savithri for joining us today, and also invite you to stop by her brand new blog and tell her I sent you. If you’d like to read more about our hilarious (mis)adventures in India, please check out our book: DO NOT WASH HANDS IN PLATES. It’s the story of three women eating our way across India in search of adventure, elephants, temples, palaces, western toilets, monkeys, the perfect paratha…and the kindness of Indian strangers.